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DNJ Column 1/26/20

         

I don’t know if it’s the same in schools today, but I was taught by some “interesting” characters. Mrs. Ford was, in my memory, a large woman who wore strong perfume and piled her hair on the top of her head. Must have added half a foot to her height.

         

I suppose she taught all the things a fourth-grade teacher was supposed to back then, but I remember she spent a lot of time reading to us.  I wish I knew now the names of those books and authors, for we were spellbound. There was something about the way she read that held our attention.

          

I did find one author she read to us by remembering the nicknames of a couple of the characters in one of her books. Emma Speed Sampson (1868-1947) wrote many novels and was also a censor for the Virginia State Board of Censors.

          

Mrs. Sampson was a “dialect” author, as were many southern writers at the time. She was raised in very “proper” Southern cities (Louisville, Richmond), but this was not unusual, as those who used no dialect, beyond the Southern accent, were often the ones who perceived and preserved (in writing anyway) the sound of the spoken dialect.

          

Mrs. Ford certainly played a big role in inculcating a love of reading in me and I’m sure many others. I miss not ever seeing these many teachers in my adult life, having left Florida in 1977. My mother went to a very small school in Madison, FL. We were driving around her little home town a few years ago and saw a Used Bookstore. Well, you don’t just drive on past a bookstore, especially a used bookstore, you’ve never been inside of. So we pulled over and she waited in the car, saying, “I have all the books I’ll ever need.” Which is just crazy talk, but never mind.

         

In the store was a woman even older than my mother, who was about 85 at the time. Tall and thin with lots of wispy white hair. Never having seen me before, and Madison being a very small town, she wanted to talk. What brings you here, why Madison, etc. When she learned my mother was in the car and we were sightseeing her old hometown, she had to know her name. Next thing I know, I’m being introduced to my mother’s High School English Teacher! “Miss Cherry” they called her still, though she’d been married over 60 years.

          

Had to come outside and talk to her old student Martha sitting in the car. It was sweet and weird all at the same time. My mother seems older than Methuselah, and here was HER teacher chatting with her at the car window! According to my mother, everybody loved Miss Cherry, which wasn’t hard to believe.

         

There are so many others that I remember: Mrs. Hodges, Iona Smith, Joe Kairis, Ray and Patsy Kickliter, Mrs. Wynn, perhaps the kindest of all my teachers. Iona Smith taught us Logic and Rhetoric in 11th grade and said things we’d never heard any teacher say. “Why do rude men refer to some women as old bats?” she blurted out in class one day. Shocked silence on the part of the rest of us. Then she raised her arms, in her sleeveless blouse (we had no A/C when I was in school) and shaking them, said, “Because of our bat-wings, of course! See what you have to look forward to, ladies!” The girls in class didn’t find her very funny. I think maybe she’d had a nip over the lunch hour, but this woman was memorable. And smart.

         

I look forward to meeting some new teachers February 2, when Central Christian Church hosts the faculty and staff of Oakland High School for worship and free Potluck lunch after church. Go Patriots!

Steve Odom graduated from Leon High with a 2.86 GPA and has never lived it down. Berate him at steven.odom@gmail.com

DNJ Column January 19, 2020

People always say that politics and religion don’t mix, and that’s usually good advice, and most people know what is meant. But there are times and circumstances where they intersect.

For example, little has been in the news as much lately as Iran and our strike on a top general responsible for a great deal of terrorism over the decades. Doesn’t get much more political than that. But I want to talk about the church in Iran. Yes, there are Christians in Iran. They are pretty quiet, given the kind of opression they live under. But there are Christians today in Iran, who live in a nation full of Sauls, the church’s first persecutor, who sometimes do “enter house after house; dragging off both men and women.” But in Iran, death is sometimes easier than the alternative.

In the recently released documentary, “Sheep Among Wolves” (which I recommend to you: faimission.org) about the church in Iran, one Christian woman said,“We know that if they get us, the first thing they will do to us as a woman is rape us and then they will beat us and ultimately they will kill us. This is the decision we have made, that we want to offer our bodies as sacrifices. Because I have this thought when I wake up, that when I leave that door, I might not come back.”

          

The church in Iran has no buildings, no organization, few leaders. One said in the documentary: “What if I told you Islam is dead?” speaking of Islam in Iran. “What if I told you the mosques are empty inside Iran? What if I told you no one follows Islam inside of Iran? Would you believe me? What if I told you the best evangelist for Jesus was the Ayatollah Khomeini? The ayatollahs brought the true face of Islam to light and people discovered it was a lie…After 40 years under Islamic law — a utopia according to them — they’ve had the worst devastation in the 5,000-year history of Iran.”

          

The church in Iran is mostly led by women, who share their faith and make disciples of those who are desperate to be delivered from the regime that has devastated their world. One woman tells the story of being raped by her father repeatedly ever since she was five years old. When she was 15 she stood on a chair, tied a rope to the light fixture and kicked the chair out.

          

Immediately, she realized she was actually sitting on a man’s shoulders, who said his name was Jesus, and he wanted her to be his witness to other girls and women in Iran. She woke up four hours later, lying in her bed by herself, with her neck badly bruised and the unbroken rope lying beside her.

          

She went to her father and forgave him for years of abuse, and he eventually became a disciple of Jesus as well.

          

The church in Iran is said to be the fastest growing church in the world. Now we need not think the Spirit has forgotten us in America. He has heaped our basket of blessing full to the brim, so we can pray for our brothers and sisters in Iran, and in China, and wherever the gates of hell march against the church of Jesus Christ. The Gospel knows no borders or boundaries.

          

Not everyone is asked to make the sacrifice which women of Iran are making. But let us not forget them. Let us not rest in our comfort with which God has blessed us. Jesus is appearing to Muslims in their dreams all around the world. God brought a young woman to this country from Saudi Arabia so she could hear the gospel and he spoke to her 3 years ago and delivered her from oppression. She was baptized here, and when her own government cut off her tuition support, she worked so she cut pay MTSU her back tuition. She is a living witness to the Spirit of God speaking in the world.  And God is speaking still.

Daily News Journal 1/5/2020

You probably know that the person who insists that he loves everybody is the person to keep your eyes on. Part of the reason is this: what motivation could one have for asserting that one loves everybody? “Everybody” is a lot. Is it a form of boasting? In which case one can legitimately view their honesty with a jaundiced eye, for if there’s one thing most of us learn in life it’s that the loudest boaster rarely lives up to the boasts.

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” says Queen Gertrude about an overacting player in the drama that Hamlet stages, attempting to uncover his uncle’s guilt. We intuitively recognize this kind of thing in real life, most of the time. Most of the time. For it must be admitted (in similar fashion) that there are some very talented liars in the world (talented at lying, that is) and the person who insists he can always spot a lie is the perfect mark.

Another reason to tread carefully around that person who loves everyone is lack of self-awareness, which, while common to all, is not common to all to the same degree. That is to say, there are things about ourselves, habits, foibles, etc., about which you and I are not aware. But if we’re so unself-aware as to think that we really do love everyone, that really does signal a larger problem.

Veracity, or its absence, is one of those problems indicated above. Why is the speaker claiming what surely he knows cannot be true? And if he doesn’t know that it’s impossible to love everyone, then you know he hasn’t thought much about this quite wild claim, and, that he will likely choose to please himself rather than seek out the truth.

For those who assert universal love often receive much approval from their hearers, or from their own conscience. It’s like eating chocolate for breakfast. It’s the kind of thing we tell ourselves when we can’t face the alternative. To acknowledge that one is a hater, of at least some, is a daunting thing to face up to. Christians and Jews are accustomed, through their scriptures and liturgical holy days, to facing up to failure, personal and corporate.

As the old Book of Common Prayer (1662) says, “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.”

If those words resonate with your memory or your religious outlook, you are not surprised that you don’t love everyone. Leaving aside the physical and geographical impossibilities, the Jew and the Christian are called upon to “love our neighbor.” It’s much easier to love a stranger in Brazil whom we’ve never met than to love our grouchy (literal) neighbor, or your impossibly irritating brother-in-law, or that guy at the office (yeah, THAT guy).

This is where we start. Not loving the planet and tweeting about it. We begin by disciplining our words, our eyes,, our face, our thoughts. And we do all that before we come across the person impossible to love. We don’t wait till the moment, we prepare. What will I say to Howard when I see him? How can I improve his day, how can I (as much as I hate to) help him think more highly of himself?

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is that man or woman that REALLY grinds your gears. Don’t worry about whatever politician you love to hate. Don’t worry about showing the world how woke you are. Don’t worry about making sure the world knows you’re about love and not about hate. Just find the “neighbor” you’re so mad at, so fed up with, so, so,,….anyway, and figure out how to love your neighbor.

January Caller Article

You probably know that the person who insists that he loves everybody is the person to keep your eyes on. Part of the reason is this: what motivation could one have for asserting that one loves everybody? “Everybody” is a lot. Is it a form of boasting? In which case one can legitimately view their honesty with a jaundiced eye, for if there’s one thing most of us learn in life it’s that the loudest boaster rarely lives up to the boasts.

 

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” says Queen Gertrude about an overacting player in the drama that Hamlet stages, attempting to uncover his uncle’s guilt. We intuitively recognize this kind of thing in real life, most of the time. Most of the time. For it must be admitted (in similar fashion) that there are some very talented liars in the world (talented at lying, that is) and the person who insists he can always spot a lie is the perfect mark.

 

Another reason to tread carefully around that person who loves everyone is lack of self-awareness, which, while common to all, is not common to all to the same degree. That is to say, there are things about ourselves, habits, foibles, etc., about which you and I are not aware. But if we’re so unself-aware as to think that we really do love everyone, that really does signal a larger problem.

Veracity, or its absence, is one of those problems indicated above. Why is the speaker claiming what surely he knows cannot be true? And if he doesn’t know that it’s impossible to love everyone, then you know he hasn’t thought much about this quite wild claim, and, that he will likely choose to please himself rather than seek out the truth.

 

For those who assert universal love often receive much approval from their hearers, or from their own conscience. It’s like eating chocolate for breakfast. It’s the kind of thing we tell ourselves when we can’t face the alternative. To acknowledge that one is a hater, of at least some, is a daunting thing to face up to. Christians and Jews are accustomed, through their scriptures and liturgical holy days, to facing up to failure, personal and corporate.

As the old Book of Common Prayer (1662) says, “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.”

 

If those words resonate with your memory or your religious outlook, you are not surprised that you don’t love everyone. Leaving aside the physical and geographical impossibilities, the Jew and the Christian are called upon to “love our neighbor.” It’s much easier to love a stranger in Brazil whom we’ve never met than to love our grouchy (literal) neighbor, or your impossibly irritating brother-in-law, or that guy at the office (yeah, THAT guy).

 

This is where we start. Not loving the planet and tweeting about it. We begin by disciplining our words, our eyes,, our face, our thoughts. And we do all that before we come across the person impossible to love. We don’t wait till the moment, we prepare. What will I say to Howard when I see him? How can I improve his day, how can I (as much as I hate to) help him think more highly of himself?

 

Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is that man or woman that REALLY grinds your gears. Don’t worry about whatever politician you love to hate. Don’t worry about showing the world how woke you are. Don’t worry about making sure the world knows you’re about love and not about hate. Just find the “neighbor” you’re so mad at, so fed up with, so, so,,….anyway, and figure out how to love your neighbor.

Daily News Journal Column 12/22/19

 

How do words do what they do? How do words move beyond simply hot air?

          Political promises in our American experience are often the airiest, the flimsiest of words.

          

We live in inflationary times, when it comes to words. Part of this has to do with what Neil Postman called the “Information-Action Ratio. In 1990, Postman said:

 

"The tie between information and action has been severed. Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold, or used as a form of entertainment, or worn like a garment to enhance one's status. It comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don't know what to do with it.”

 

The other way this affects us is that it undermines rhetoric in all its forms. Rhetoric is the wise use of speech to persuade or motivate. Because there’s so much of it nowadays, rhetoric loses its power and ability to move its hearers. Advertising suffers from this loss of power. Ads used to be all print, words.

 

Then came radio which gave us jingles to sell the soap with, and then TV gave us moving pictures, and stories, and short vignettes all in the service of getting you to buy Budweiser instead of Miller.

 

But though the advertisers are smarter than most of us, every method eventually gets used up and thrown away, as has happened to rhetoric.

This loss of power can apply to the world of credit. The word credit derives from the Latin word for I believe, “Credo.”

 

With credit, if you’re young, but you’ve demonstrated that you’re trustworthy, creditworthy, that you pay your bills regularly, and on time, someone, a credit card issuer maybe, will believe your promises to pay next Tuesday for a hamburger today. They will credit what you say.

 

They’ll take you at your word, sort of. They’ll accept your agreement to pay them what you owe each month for what you’ve bought with your credit card. They’ll extend you credit. And if you can’t pay it all the first month, for a fee, small or large depending on how “Good” your credit is, they’ll let you extend the period of borrowing.

 

Now, just as credit can be damaged, or lost altogether, as in a bankruptcy, trust can be damaged or lost, in personal relationships, in product advertising, or in political speech or in the world of religious persuasion.

 

Ulysses Grant’s notorious corrupt administration cast a darker light on succeeding administrations. In a sense Grant damaged Warren Harding, who damaged LBJ, who damaged Richard Nixon, who damaged George HW Bush who damaged Bill Clinton, and on and on.

 

It’s the same with religious scandals. Few now remember Billy James Hargis or Marjoe Gortner, but Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart still poison pulpits, as do priests and bishops in Catholic and Protestant churches accused or convicted of sexual abuse of minors, undermining the creditworthiness of preachers and teachers in the church, and sometimes the Bible itself.

 

But in spite of all this, in spite of our skepticism toward words and rhetoric of all kinds, we still know that words have power. Words can still do things, especially in a negative sense. Words are sometimes weapons.

 

We used to chant on the playground what our mothers taught us to say to bullies: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me.”

 

It’s so untrue—but it was a talisman of hope, it was an assertion, a challenge to the wielders of words as weapons. It was a mother’s prayer, in essence, that her child would not be harmed by the words of others, a prayer that she hung around the neck of her child, a charm to protect from the harm of words and the evil they can do.

 

And sometimes forewarned is forearmed. But not always. We all know words can harm. But we have to fight our way back to the words that can help, the words that can heal. “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.”

 

 

Daily News Journal Column 12/15/19

He was a big man. A member of my church in Texas, Steve always drove an F-350, mainly I think because he couldn’t fit in a smaller model. Being close to 6 and half feet tall, he was also, let’s say, stocky. But strong. Had to be, to be a fireman. He worked for the Dallas FD, and I mention his size so you’ll know how hard that piece of propane tank hit him, when it blew up and knocked him backwards several feet out of the building he’d run into on a fire call.

          

The injury was quite severe, and we weren’t sure he’d make it, at first. It had carved right through his firefighter’s protective gear and took out a big chunk of his abdomen. He lost a lot of weight, but certainly not the way he had wanted.

          

What’s in that burning building? You never know for sure, but there’s one person whose job it is to run into the building instead of away from it. The Firefighter. Lots of little boys want to grow up to be a fireman. Especially to drive that big old honkin’ truck and make a lot of noise with the sirens! But it takes a special something to stay the course, that day in Fire Academy, when it’s time to run into the burning building. And that’s not even the same as a genuine raging inferno.

          

Most of us would be paralyzed by the sight of a large building fire. But the firefighter heads for it, not away from it. The firefighter’s training kicks in at the sound of alarms. They’re not sitting around playing checkers in their “down time.” They’re training, they’re maintaining, they’re planning, they’re cleaning up after the last call, they’re educating the rest of us on fire safety, they’re out on non-fire calls, since that’s 80% of the job.  In addition to the medical emergency calls, and there are a lot of those, they often respond to serious traffic accidents.  Of course, the main thing is readiness. Firemen are at the station, and no matter what they’re doing while there, they’re ready to head out to do their duty.

Herman Melville describes in “Moby Dick” the frenzied dash across the ocean as whalers strain their muscles to chase a whale. During what could be long chases the oarsmen labored while the harpooner calmly reserved his strength for the moment he would unleash his deadly dart. And then this sentence from Melville: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not from out of toil.” I’ve often seen that applied to pastors, but it also relates to the firefighter.

          

A modern, well-equipped Fire Department is vital to a community, and no one knows that better than a town without one. Not only are lives lost or at risk, but homeowners insurance premiums are lowered relative to the ISO ratings a Fire Department receives. I’m grateful that the MFRD’s rating is in the top 1% of all departments in the country. They put money in the pocket of homeowners every year.

          

Eighteen years ago, we all learned about the heroes of the NYFD on 9/11. More than forty years ago the MFRD saved our church sanctuary from fire due to a lightning strike. (What insurance companies call “an act of God.” That never sounds good when it’s a church…) We live in the midst of heroes of our own and Central Christian Church prays for them regularly, and for the last ten years and more have been regularly delivering homemade cookies to all the local Fire Stations. This is also why we’re inviting the entire MFRD to worship with us on January 5th so we can honor them with our prayers and a home-cooked luncheon immediately following the service. Church is at 10:45 AM at the Corner of Main and Maney.

 

 

December Caller Article

One reason people have trouble assigning religion and politics, church and state, to their proper roles is that it’s complicated. Complicated by history, but also complicated by the similarity in they address.

        

 It’s not like separating oil and water, which process will take care of itself, but more like trying to pull the cream back out of homogenized milk. Can’t be done. Some can remember unhomogenized milk on the farm, or delivered to the doorstep in bottles. The cream, especially on cold mornings, separated and rose to the top.

         

The dualities above are hard to separate. Take the Ten Commandments. In the Biblical world of early Israel, the law was all one thing. We’re in the habit of reading the Mosaic Law nowadays, and thinking, that’s ceremonial, that’s ethical, that’s criminal, that’s civil, etc.

         

But the Eighth Commandment, for example, simply says “You shall not steal.” Four words. Depending on how you translate it, the Fourth Commandment regarding Sabbath observance involves 80 words. But the Eighth: “You shall not steal.” So simple. So elegant. But is it clear? We initially think we know what it means. Proudhon, the French philosopher said “Property is theft.” Proudhon considered that harm cannot be separated from the concept of “ownership” anymore than debit could be separated from asset in double-entry bookkeeping. The Italians used to call Syphilis “the French disease”, but Proudhon’s particular brand of madness may be a better candidate for the label.

         

Leaving aside Proudhon’s socialist inanity, we can reflect upon the various ways that a complex economy needs thought, and care, and pondering in order to prevent what some think are simple transactions sliding over into stealing. Chinese “resellers” are famously labeling their products one way, but the online purchasers here and elsewhere are certainly not receiving what they think they’re buying. Is that stealing? Do Amazon and other hosts of resellers and remarketers on their proprietary websites have a responsibility to “regulate” false advertising? Are they involved in stealing as well? How far do you push the definition?

 

My question is not is Amazon or any other company liable under American law, but can we call that stealing? Morally. Does and should the moral question inform the legal one? Or perhaps I own, outright, every copper mine in the USA. I contribute to those politicians who will keep tariffs high on imported copper. Customers then pay more for goods made of copper and dependent on copper. Is that stealing? Is it just smart business? If I just follow all the laws, am I clear of breaking the 8th commandment?

I think I’m obliged to tell you that my car was in a flood and the odometer’s rolled over if I sell it to you. But I don’t think I’m obliged to tell you that the same exact make and model is for sale at a better price just down the street. You may disagree. But it seems to me that one is certainly akin to stealing because it’s dishonest, and one is not. Not unless you ask me, “do you know anywhere I can get the same car at a better price?”

         

It’s important for government, with a “monopoly of violence” (the power to coerce), to stay as far away from entanglement with religion as possible. But the flip side is not as easy. The work and words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. are a good example of why it’s sometimes necessary for religion to “interfere” with government, why church must sometimes address state. One’s own partisan learnings usually have a lot to do with when one thinks that moment has arrived.

         

But a blanket silencing of any religious speech aimed at critiquing, criticizing, supporting, educating, or perhaps even praying for those in power, in elected office, or who seek elected office, is not in the best traditions of our country and not healthy in the long run for the country itself, and contrary to the express wording of the Constitution. 

DNJ Column 11/24/19

More than three quarters of a century ago on the day I write this the Battle for Stalingrad began. More Soviets died in this one campaign against the invading Nazis than did Americans in the entire war. A full 25% of USSR’s entire population was either wounded or killed from 1941-45.

          

Germany had fought their way through Ukraine from June to November 1942, but their advance through the city of Stalingrad had slowed from miles, to blocks, to yards and feet per day by November 19 when Stalin ordered the counterattack.

          

Historians argue over turning points, the moment when the balance of power changes, when it becomes clear that the odds have shifted in favor of a particular side. Five million Soviet soldiers were killed or captured from June-December of 1941. But the failure to capture the capital city proved the effort something of a stalemate.

          

Hitler turned his sights on Stalingrad in the following year on his way to the oil fields of the Caucasus region, for he thought the oil of Romania would not prove enough for Germany’s needs. His economic reasoning perhaps proved his undoing. Had he returned to the battle for Moscow and won, things may have turned out differently.

          

In 1942 Hitler began to appear to have bitten off more than he could comfortably chew. Around this time the German General Franz Halder noted “It is becoming ever more apparent that the Russian colossus…. Has been underestimated by us…. At the start of the war we reckoned with about 200 enemy divisions. Now we have already counted 360… When a dozen have been smashed, then the Russian puts up another dozen.”

          

More than the Battle of Britain or the invasion of Italy, perhaps even more than D-Day’s invasion at the Normandy Beaches, the meatgrinder of Stalingrad turned the tide of war back onto Germany, for they from this point on were gradually retreating from the East, which had been Hitler’s goal from the beginning, to capture and enslave “the Slavs.”

          

It is an objective reality that people on the other side of the world died in a struggle against evil that benefited our country. Of course, knowing the nature of Leninist/Stalinist communism, and that they killed more of their own subjects than did the Germans, we might look at the Eastern Front of the European Theatre as the battle of two devils.

         

But not all knew the true murderous nature of Soviet Communism at the time, and of course not all who knew it disagreed with their political model, hard as that may be to credit. But Russian “comrades” loved their country, and many froze or starved to death to defeat the German invaders. It’s true that many Russians thought it safer to be captured by the Nazis than to endure the tender mercies of their own government, but less than 15% of Russian POWs survived their German captors’ treatment in the camps.

          

I think about these defenders of Stalingrad as I casually put on a sweater in my living room so I can be comfortable while keeping the thermostat at 67. I wander through the palaces of consumption of our world and wonder, do I buy “Great Value” (pre-sliced) cheese or Sargents, which is a little more expensive?

          

I only ever thought of Russians as enemies (during the Cold War). But 1942. It’s a funny old world. Lloyd Stone says, in “This Is My Song” from our church’s hymnal, “My country's skies are bluer than the ocean, And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine. But other lands have sunlight too, and clover, And skies are everywhere as blue as mine. O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, A song of peace for their land and for mine.” Do svidaniya.

Steve Odom is not now, and has never been, a member of the Communist Party. He is the pastor of Central Christian Church and may be reached at steven.odom@gmail.com

DNJ Column 11/17/19

I found Jesus the other day. I know that sounds weird coming from a pastor but let me explain. It wasn’t that I found him for the first time, for that was more a matter of being found, it almost felt like being singled out. No, this was more akin to the regular experience of many Christians who run across Jesus all the time.

         

 I remember the cover of the Bob Dylan album, “Slow Train Coming.” The first time I looked at it, it occurred to me that the pickax in the hands of the railroad worker pictured also looked like a cross. And then I begin seeing crosses as I drove down the highway, a whole slew of crosses, holding up the power lines alongside the road. They just zip past you, one after the other, they just keep coming, like the call of God on each soul.

          

My experience the other day was like coming across somebody when you don’t expect them. I don’t know if young men “fall in love” anymore like we did in the sixties, but it’s kind of like that. When you’re a certain age, say between 12 and 20, you see a girl, and kapow! you’re just a goner. And then, at school, wherever you are, you seem to see her everywhere, whereas before you’d never noticed.

          

I never expected to run across Jesus in a dusty old tent in the desert, but that’s what happened. The tent itself was in the book of Exodus in the Bible. If you know anything about Exodus, you probably know that’s where Mt. Sinai is found, as well as the Ten Commandments, the Burning Bush, the Baby in the Bulrushes, Pharaoh, the Ten Plagues, Passover, etc.

          

But in addition to those moments of high drama that are memorialized for many in Charlton Heston’s movie there are long passages in Exodus with detailed (excruciatingly detailed) instructions for how to construct the Tabernacle, the tent where the Ark of the Covenant (instructions for that, too) is to be kept, as well as the Altar, and the Table for the shewbread, and the bronze Laver for washing and the Altar for burning incense, on and on.

          

“You shall make an altar to burn incense upon; of acacia wood shall you make it.  A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth; it shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height; its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and its sides round about and its horns; and you shall make for it a molding of gold round about. And two golden rings shall you make for it; under its molding on two opposite sides of it shall you make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it.  You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.”

          

See what I mean? You read this kind of stuff and you start wondering. I mean I can see that God had very detailed plans for how the ancient Israelites were to worship Him, but I’m not the object of these instructions. I’m not called to build a Tabernacle.

          

But we kept reading and kept reading, and finally noticed something. They were told how to build that Altar of Incense, they were told what to make the Oil of Anointing with, which was to be used to anoint (consecrate) all the furniture and utensils in the Tabernacle, and they were told how to make the Incense, what ingredients to use.

          

And as you read along, you see Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Those three stood out. And they were told not to use the Incense or Oil of Anointing for any everyday use, and only the priests of the Tabernacle were to handle the furniture and utensils covered with Gold.

          

And that’s when I finally figured out who we were talking about.

DNJ Column 11/10/19

Learning that Foucault’s Pendulum in the Smithsonian was dismantled 20 years ago got me to thinking about regular pendulums like you might see in a grandfather clock, back and forth. And what I really find amazing is the way cultural/religious/political changes seem to be governed, you’d almost have to say, by the law of the pendulum. It seems like we always go too far.

What I’ve been reading and learning about has to do with changes instituted (they don’t just happen) in our society after WWII. They have lot to do with our natural and laudable reaction against the scourges of the first half of the 20th century: communism and fascism.

In the succeeding generations after 1945 we all wanted to run as far and fast away as possible from those two monsters. And what I’m learning is that it’s possible to go overboard in just about any form of societal change.

It’s like 19th century Protestants in America did not want candles on the Lord’s Table because Catholics had candles. Therefore. I worked with a church musician in the 80s who always said, ironically, “If it’s worth doing, Mr. Odom, it’s worth overdoing.” I think we’ve been overdoing it, when it comes to openness and a retreat from common loves and the devotions that bind a society together. For it is evident we are coming undone, unglued, for we are losing a love of the commonalty, the “res publica,” around which we should be at least somewhat united.

I’ve been influenced in my recent thinking about his by RR Reno, who has just come out with a book entitled: “Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism and the Future of the West.” Reno begins by limning the changes prescribed by Karl Popper (“The Open Society and Its Enemies”) and Friedrich Hayek (“The Road to Serfdom”). Popper, teacher and mentor of George Soros, was a man of the left, and Hayek, mentor of Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson, a man of the right. But they were friends and saw themselves as allies against the closing down of the world they had left behind, both being born and raised in Austria, both struggling with fascism and communism and the controls they both wanted to impose on the economic and social lives of people and nations.

The Amazon.com description of Reno’s book describes his understanding of the postwar project, left and right, this way: “By liberating ourselves from the old attachments to nation, clan, and religion that had fueled centuries of violence, we could build a prosperous world without borders, freed from dogmas and managed by experts. But the populism and nationalism that are upending politics in America and Europe are a sign that after three generations, the postwar consensus is breaking down. With compelling insight, R. R. Reno argues that we are witnessing the return of the “strong gods”—the powerful loyalties that bind men to their homeland and to one another.”

Reno posits the idea that it is our loves that bind us together. Love for what we value, love for what we have in common. An absolute openness, whether socially or economically, is centrifugal, and eventually tears people apart in a variety of directions. When the new god of “diversity” cannot be questioned, when “inclusiveness” takes precedence over any and all other values, it become difficult if not impossible to love a common goal, an end that all might work toward. Traditional societies were bound together by common religious values, which is difficult in a nation of not just religious freedom, but one where the clerisy restricts the practice of traditional religious values if they contradict the open values of diversity and inclusiveness.

Augustine describes a “people” as “an assembled multitude of rational creatures bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love.” What do we hold in common?

DNJ Column 11/3/19

In the preface to his translation of the Bible into German, Martin Luther says “The Scriptures of the Old Testament are not to be despised but diligently read. Here you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies….Simple and lowly are these swaddling cloths, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them.”

The manger in which Christ lies. Martin Luther is reading the gospel of Luke “figurally,” using the figure, the picture, of the manger, to understand another part of the scriptures, the Old Testament. The Old Testament, he says, is Christ’s manger. This is metaphorical speech. Poetic speech. It’s the only way to make sense of a passage in John 5, in which Jesus says to his interlocutors, “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me.”  All four gospels do this in a variety of ways.

A pre-figuration is not limited to the idea that the coming of Christ was “prophesied” or predicted. Erich Auerbach said “Figural interpretation establishes a connection between two events, things or persons in such a way that the first signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second involves and fulfils the first. They are both contained in the flowing stream which is historical life, and the comprehension of their interdependence is a spiritual act.”

Which is another way of saying that the figure of Jesus as the Rock on which the wise man builds his house in Matthew 7, the Sermon on the Mount, stands on its own and has its own validity, but that figure of the rock expands in profundity and meaning when we see its connections to the rock from which the water gushed forth in the desert when Moses struck the rock with his staff in the book of Numbers 20.

Or when we connect that rock in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, to the “rock” of Mt. Sinai, where the Lord spoke his covenant to his chosen people. Or when we connect that rock to “the stone that was rejected, which has become the chief cornerstone,” from Psalm 118, quoted 6 times in the New Testament. A figural reading expands our vison and understanding.

My assertion is this: in order to read the Old Testament profitably and correctly we must read it through the eyes of the four gospels and the other books of the New Testament. For why is the Old Testament a part of our “Bible” at all? Because it was Jesus’ Bible. He preached from the Old Testament, he quoted the Old Testament, he lived the Old Testament, before it was “Old!” When it was just, the “scriptures,” “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” to quote Jesus himself in Luke 24.

The problem is that the general lack of familiarity with the Old Testament within the church, and an almost complete ignorance of the Old Testament outside the church (and the synagogue of course), has left us virtually unaware of the deeply Jewish character of the Gospels, and the way the Gospels constantly allude to Old Testament texts, quote them and echo them.

A seminary professor I know had a student say this to him in class one day at Duke: “Judaism was a harsh religion that taught people to fear God’s judgment, but Jesus came to teach us to love God with all our heart, soul and strength.”

Now what’s so sad and funny about that is this is a young person training to a pastor, a religious guide to others. But even more ironic, to make his anti-Jewish point, the student unwittingly quotes the Old Testament, the law of  Moses: Deuteronomy 6:5, “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Which may be familiar to you because Jesus said it. But it was “the first and greatest commandment” that every Jew knew by heart.

November Caller Article 

Strange things happen in the world all the time, about which we know little or nothing, and often neither the cause nor the effect. In 1858 George MacDonald, a Scottish preacher rejected by his congregation, wrote a novel, a strange novel, and named it “Phantastes.” Oddly enough, in 1914, Jack Lewis saw it on a sale rack at a train station and fearing the boredom of a train journey with nothing to read, bought it. Thirty years later, in writing an introduction to two of MacDonald’s novels (Lilith being the other), he said: “"That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes."

In his own autobiography, Lewis said, “Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, “Phantastes, a Faerie Romance,” by George MacDonald. Then the train came in. I can still remember the voice of the porter calling out the village names Saxon and sweet as a nut—‘Bookham, Effingham, Horsley train.’ That evening I began to read my new book. The woodland journeyings in that story, the ghostly enemies, the ladies both good and evil, were close enough to my habitual imagery to lure me on without the perception of a change. It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new.”

        

Jack Lewis, is, of course, C.S. Lewis, beloved author of the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity and many other works, and premier apologist for the Christian faith of the 20th century. Many don’t know that in his day job, as professor at Oxford and later Cambridge University, he was considered a foremost scholar of Medieval  Literature, later tapped to write the medieval volume of the Oxford History of English Literature (which consumed so much of his time, he would say to his friends “I have to get back to work on O- HEL!”) Lewis’ writings and winsome witness to his faith in Christ (from the 1940s forward) influenced and changed countless lives and continues to do so.

        

Lewis was a teenager when he stumbled on Phantastes, had been raised in the Anglican church of Belfast, but had been an atheist for years, partly as a result of his mother’s early death, and his boyhood tutor, W.T. Kirkpatrick. MacDonald was the beginning of his oh so slow return to faith.

        

Would it have happened without Lewis reading MacDonald’s book? Would the many who have come to faith in Christ through the books of Lewis be non-believers without that witness?

        

Reggie, the bookstall supplier for the station was sick that day in 1914, and he got word by his brother-in-law, who didn’t like him very much, but did it anyway, to Alf, his co-worker, that he needed help, and that the bookstalls had to be supplied that day for the stations he covered or he’d be in trouble with the boss. Alf, who could hardly read himself, who’d rather have five pints than just one, Alf, who could never turn down a request for a favor, who never met a man he didn’t like, who especially admired Reggie who was an educated van driver; Alf stepped into the breach. Alf got George’s book on the rack so Jack could see it, buy it, and well, you know the rest.

        

Would MacDonald have written the novel (the first of many) if his congregation had not driven him out of their pulpit for what they considered heresy? Who introduced me to Lewis when I was only 16? I cannot remember. But we know it’s not only Ideas that Have Consequences, as Richard Weaver’s famous book asserts, but deeds as well. Actions, choices, decisions.

        

When you hear that inner voice urge you to step up: listen.

DNJ Column 10/27/19

Strange things happen in the world all the time, about which we know little or nothing, and often neither the cause nor the effect. In 1858 George MacDonald, a Scottish preacher rejected by his congregation, wrote a novel, a strange novel, and named it “Phantastes.” Oddly enough, in 1914, Jack Lewis saw it on a sale rack at a train station and fearing the boredom of a train journey with nothing to read, bought it. Thirty years later, in writing an introduction to two of MacDonald’s novels (Lilith being the other), he said: “"That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes."

        

 In his own autobiography, Lewis said, “Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman in a dirty jacket, “Phantastes, a Faerie Romance,” by George MacDonald. Then the train came in. I can still remember the voice of the porter calling out the village names Saxon and sweet as a nut—‘Bookham, Effingham, Horsley train.’ That evening I began to read my new book. The woodland journeyings in that story, the ghostly enemies, the ladies both good and evil, were close enough to my habitual imagery to lure me on without the perception of a change. It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new.”

        

 Jack Lewis, is, of course, C.S. Lewis, beloved author of the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity and many other works, and premier apologist for the Christian faith of the 20th century. Many don’t know that in his day job, as professor at Oxford and later Cambridge University, he was considered a foremost scholar of Medieval Literature, later tapped to write the medieval volume of the Oxford History of English Literature (which consumed so much of his time, he would say to his friends “I have to get back to work on O- HEL!)” Lewis’ writings and winsome witness to his faith in Christ (from the 1940s forward) influenced and changed countless lives and continues to do so.

         

Lewis was a teenager when he stumbled on Phantastes, had been raised in the Anglican church of Belfast, but had been an atheist for years, partly as a result of his mother’s early death, and his boyhood tutor, W.T. Kirkpatrick. MacDonald was the beginning of his oh so slow return to faith.

         

Would it have happened without Lewis reading MacDonald’s book? Would the many who have come to faith in Christ through the books of Lewis be non-believers without that witness?

         

Reggie, the bookstall supplier for the station was sick that day in 1914, and he got word by his brother-in-law, who didn’t like him very much, but did it anyway, to Alf, his co-worker, that he needed help, and that the bookstalls had to be supplied that day for the stations he covered or he’d be in trouble with the boss. Alf, who could hardly read himself, who’d rather have five pints than just one, Alf, who could never turn down a request for a favor, who never met a man he didn’t like, who especially admired Reggie who was an educated van driver; Alf stepped into the breach. Alf got George’s book on the rack so Jack could see it, buy it, and well, you know the rest.

         

Would MacDonald have written the novel (the first of many) if his congregation had not driven him out of their pulpit for what they considered heresy? Who introduced me to Lewis when I was only 16? I cannot remember. But we know it’s not only Ideas that Have Consequences, as Richard Weaver’s famous book asserts, but deeds as well. Actions, choices, decisions.

         

When you hear that inner voice urge you to step up: listen.